Mehtab Bagh

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Taj as seen from Mehtab bAGH
Mehtab Bagh
Mehtab Bagh.jpg
Mehtab Bagh
Taj Mahal area map.png
Location of Mehtab Bagh
Type Garden
Location Agra, Uttar Pradesh
Coordinates 27°10′47″N 78°02′31″E / 27.17972°N 78.04194°E / 27.17972; 78.04194Coordinates: 27°10′47″N 78°02′31″E / 27.17972°N 78.04194°E / 27.17972; 78.04194
Area 25 acres (10 ha)
Created 1652 (1652)
Operated by ASI
Open Year round
Status Open

Mehtab Bagh (Hindi: मेहताब बाग़, Urdu: ماہتاب باغ‎, translation: Moonlight Garden) is a charbagh complex located in Agra, North India. It is situated north of the Taj Mahal complex and the Agra Fort on the opposite side of the Yamuna River, in the flood plains.[1][2] The garden complex, square in shape, measures about 300 by 300 metres (980 ft × 980 ft) and is perfectly aligned with the Taj Mahal on the opposite bank.[3] During the rainy season, the ground becomes partially flooded.[4]

History[edit]

The Mehtab Bagh garden was the last of eleven Mughal-built gardens along the Yamuna opposite the Taj and the Agra Fort;[2] the first being Ram Bagh.[5] It is mentioned that this garden was built by Emperor Babur (d. 1530).[5] It is also noted that Emperor Shah Jahan had identified a site from the crescent-shaped, grass covered floodplain across the Yamuna River as an ideal location for viewing the Taj. It was then created as "a moonlit pleasure garden called Mehtab Bagh." White plaster walkways, airy pavilions, pools and fountains were also created as part of the garden, with fruit trees and narcissus.[6] The garden was designed as an integral part of the Taj complex in the riverfront terrace pattern. Its width was identical to that of the rest of the Taj.[2] Legends attributed to the travelogue of the 17th century French traveler Jean Baptiste Tavernier) mention the wish of Shah Jahan to building a black marble mausoleum for himself, as a twin to the Taj; however, this could not be achieved as he was imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb. This myth had been further fueled in 1871 by a British archaeologist, A.C.L. Carlleyle, who, while discovering the remnants of an old pond at the site had mistaken it for the foundation of the fabled structure.[2] Thus, Carlleyle became the first researcher to notice structural remains at the site, albeit blackened by moss and lichen.[4] Mehtab Bagh was later owned by Raja Man Singh Kacchawa of Amber, who also owned the land around the Taj Mahal[7]

Frequent floods and villagers extracting building materials nearly ruined the garden. Remaining structures within the garden were in a ruinous state. By the 1990s, the garden's existence was almost forgotten and had degraded to little more than a massive mound of sand, covered with wild vegetation and alluvial silts.[8][4]

Site plan[edit]

Plan of the Taj complex with the Mehtab Bagh gardens to the left

Inscriptions on the site of Mehtab Bagh mention that its adjoins other gardens to the west; these are called "Chahar Bagh Padshahi" and "Second Chahar Bagh Padshahi".[9] A compound wall surrounded the garden; it was made of brick, lime plaster, and red sand-stone cladding. Measuring about 289 metres (948 ft) in length, the river wall is partially intact. Built on platforms, there were domed towers of red sand-stone in an octagonal shape, which may have been situated on the corners. A 2–2.5 metres (6 ft 7 in–8 ft 2 in) wide pathway made of brick edged the western boundary of the grounds, covering the remains of the boundary wall to the west.[4] Near the entrance is a small Dalit shrine on the riverside.[10] Of the four sandstone towers, which marked the corners of the garden, only the one on the south-east remains. A large octagonal pond on the southern periphery reflects the image of the Mausoleum.[2] There is a small central tank on the eastern side. Water channels enrich the landscape and there are baradaris on the east and west. There is a gate at the northern wall.[2][3] The foundations of two structures remain immediately north and south of the large pond which were probably garden pavilions. From the northern structure a stepped waterfall would have fed the pool. The garden to the north has the typical square, cross-axial plan with a square pool in its centre. To the west, an aqueduct fed the garden.[11] Other structures which are not in keeping with the original landscape plan include nurseries owned by private individuals, a temple in place of a gazebo, an odd statue of B. R. Ambedkar holding the Constitution of India in the courtyard, and relics of a water supply network to the park.[2]

Restoration[edit]

Old bird's eye view of the Taj complex with the Mehtab Bagh at the top across the river Yamuna (18th century)

Restoration of the Mehtab Bagh began after the ASI survey, setting new standards for Mughal garden research. This included a surface survey, historical documentation, paleo-botanical assessment, archaeological excavation techniques, and requirements coordination with the Ministries of culture, tourism, and planning.[12] Restoration began in the 1990s, aided by the Americans, during which barbed wire fencing was added to the Mehtab Bagh site.[13] The garden's original ambiance was restored as ASI insisted on having plants that the Mughals had used in their gardens. Though the National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) had suggested planting of 25 pollution-mitigating plant species every 2 metres (6 ft 7 in)[2] in the proposed renovation of the garden, this was opposed by the ASI. The Supreme Court intervened in the matter in favour of ASI who wanted the garden to only have plants that the Mughals used in their gardens.

Mehtab Bagh

A common list of plants was suggested. ASI landscape artists meticulously planned the replanting of trees, plants and herbage to match with the original Mughal gardens, replicating the riverside gardens brought to India from Central Asia in Shalimar Bagh in Kashmir. Some 81 plants adopted in Mughal horticulture were planted, including guava, maulshri, kaner, hibiscus, citrus fruit plants, neem, bauhinia, ashoka and jamun. The herbage was planted in such a way that tall trees follow the short ones, then shrubs, and lastly flowering plants. Some of these plants produce bright coloured flowers which shine in the moonlight. The park has been reconstructed to its original grandeur and has now become a very good location to view the Taj Mahal.[2][5]

Archaeology[edit]

Archaeological excavations in the Mehtab Bagh site have been described as "setting new archaeological standards for Mughal garden research", using paleobotanical and excavations techniques.[12] Excavations to the extent of 90,000 cubic metres of earth, were carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), in 1994. The excavations unearthed a large octagonal shaped tank with 25 fountains, and a garden, divided into four compartments. Mumtaz Mahal's tomb was found to be situated halfway between the Taj Mahal complex's main entrance and the ends of the Mehtab Bagh site.[2] This is corroborated by a letter from Aurangzeb addressed to Shah jahan in which he referred to the condition of the garden after the flood event in 1652 AD.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Ticketed Monuments, Uttar Pradesh, Mehtab Bagh". Archaeological Survey of India. Retrieved 16 October 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Avijit, Anshul (August 7, 2000). "Nursery of History: The ASI's efforts to restore the Taj Mahal's fabulous medieval garden are bearing fruit". India Today Weekly Magazine. Retrieved 16 October 2012. 
  3. ^ a b "Places of Interest". Mehtab Bagh. Official website of the Government of Uttar Pradesh, Department of Tourism. Retrieved 16 October 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c d "ANNEXURE Il GARDENS A. Mahtab Bagh A Development Plan". Archaeological Survey of India. 1996. pp. 16, 17, 23. Retrieved 18 October 2012. 
  5. ^ a b c "Mehtab Bagh". Lonely Planet. Retrieved 16 October 2012. 
  6. ^ Stuart, David (1 September 2004). Classic Garden Plans. Frances Lincoln Ltd. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-7112-2386-8. Retrieved 18 October 2012. 
  7. ^ Grewal, Royina (1 January 2008). In the Shadow of the Taj: A Portrait of Agra. Penguin Books India. p. 237. ISBN 978-0-14-310265-6. Retrieved 18 October 2012. 
  8. ^ Singh, Sarina (1 September 2009). India. Lonely Planet. p. 409. ISBN 978-1-74179-151-8. Retrieved 18 October 2012. 
  9. ^ Muqarnas. BRILL. 1997. p. 160. ISBN 978-90-04-10872-1. Retrieved 18 October 2012. 
  10. ^ Thomas, Gavin (1 October 2010). The Rough Guide to Rajasthan, Delhi & Agra. Rough Guides Limited. p. 162. ISBN 978-1-84836-555-1. Retrieved 18 October 2012. 
  11. ^ Leoshko, Janice (2002). "Book review - The Moonlight Garden: New Discoveries at the Taj Mahal". Persimmon - Asian Literature, Arts and Culture. p. 1. Retrieved 2007-03-02. 
  12. ^ a b Conan, Michel (1999). Perspectives on Garden Histories. Dumbarton Oaks. pp. 124–. ISBN 978-0-88402-269-5. Retrieved 17 October 2012. 
  13. ^ Agrawal, S. P. (1 January 1999). Information India: 1996-97: Global View. Concept Publishing Company. p. 161. ISBN 978-81-7022-786-1. Retrieved 18 October 2012. 

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